Usiko Stellenbosch: ABN – World Youth Skills Day

ABN’s partner in South Africa, Usiko Stellenbosch is a youth development and community-strengthening organisation that has been called to action during the current Covid-19 pandemic to mobilise the community of Stellenbosch in feeding and finding long-term solutions for its most vulnerable members. At the core of Usiko’s teaching and guidance of young people is the ‘Ubuntu’ idea of our connectedness and generosity towards each other, taking care of each other in shared humanity. For the last 20 years, Usiko has been running youth development programmes. These prevent youth from truancy, school dropout (in a South African context of 48% school dropout) and divert them from getting caught up in lives of crime and violence. Connection with nature through wilderness camps and hikes and instilling an understanding that education is a key pathway out of poverty is central to the programme. Through nature, the youth start to see learning as fun. They develop a love of learning and an attitude of life-long learning.

Usiko supports the youth through providing access to opportunities to further education and vocational training, which includes suitable clothing for interviews, transport money, equipment and books. They also help youth to learn computer skills and gain their driver’s licences in order to be more competitive in the workplace. For those wishing to start their own small businesses, Usiko provides small seed funding grants.

With the current Covid-19 pandemic, Usiko’s Executive Director, Arnold Okkers quickly recognised what the implications would be for the struggling communities of its youth beneficiaries. With schools shut down, children and youth who relied on schools and the aftercare programme for their daily meal were in danger of starvation. Due to Usiko’s long-standing, trusted reputation and relationships, they were able to mobilise the community to respond quickly with a feeding drive which saw the daily feeding of nutritious soup and fruit to 150 children and 100 elderly adults in informal settlements, and over 2,000 food parcels provided to families in vulnerable communities in Stellenbosch and the Northern Cape.

Usiko’s current and previous youth beneficiaries are at the forefront of this current pandemic response and, in doing so, are learning and living the values of good citizenship through helping those who desperately need food. Not only are they packing and delivering food and helping to conduct surveys of the community needs, but they are also contributing to solutions for future food security through planting and nurturing food gardens. Usiko’s food garden initiative, known as The People’s Garden, is a space not only to grow localised food but also to teach farming skills to youth and create a broader Nourishing Space for the community to come together in cultural celebrations and gatherings. The fresh vegetables grown are being added to the food parcels during the winter months and beyond the current lockdown. All the activities around The People’s Farm are being implemented together with community members and local youth in a participatory model. Until now, youth and the younger generation have seen farming as a lower status and backwards profession. This has created tension as many youths in the area grow up in farmworker families and thus see their parents as not having value in society. They feel the need to assert their identity as different and superior to their family roots. A major part of the project is giving value to farmworkers and trying to overcome this stereotype and show how and why farming is such an important profession.

Usiko’s Covid-19 work is ultimately allowing the youth to find their voices and contribute to solutions, physically planting and nurturing gardens and taking a critical role alongside adults in a common goal and purpose. This work will give them valuable skills for the future.